Over the weekend on the Sports Roundtable powered by Project Spurs, Michael De Leon asked me if I wanted to stay with my sweep prediction for the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz series, or if I wanted to change my pick. I elected to keep my prediction of a 4-0 sweep by the Spurs over the Jazz, and on Saturday evening, my prediction became one win away from coming true, as the Spurs took the Jazz’ best punch thus far in the series and still won by 12-points.
Game four is here, for the Jazz it’s a matter of pride to come out and give everything they have in order to avoid elimination and have the opportunity to play once more this season. For the Spurs, a close out victory to the series means more rest as the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers continue to battle should the Spurs defeat Utah.
The Jazz still haven’t found an answer for Tony Parker, and with one more chance to stop number nine on the Spurs, it doesn’t seem likely unless the Jazz play an absolute perfect game.
However, we do know Utah will be using a big lineup tonight as the Jazz will start Derrick Favors along side with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. We shall see if coach Gregg Popovich will have a counter for this move.
Spurs vs. Jazz Playoff Statistics
- 1. Points: Spurs (107.3) – Jazz (88) = Spurs
- 2. Assists: Spurs (24.7) – Jazz (17) = Spurs
- 3. Shooting percentage: Spurs (51.2%) – Jazz (38.8%) = Spurs
- 4. Three point shooting percentage: Spurs (39%) – Jazz (28%) = Spurs
- 5. Turnovers: Spurs (11) – Jazz (13.3) = Spurs
- 6. Rebounds: Spurs (41.3) – Jazz (45.7) = Jazz
- 7. Personal Fouls: Spurs (18.7) – Jazz (19.3) = Spurs
- 8. Free Throw Attempts: Spurs (20) – Jazz (26.3) = Jazz
Statistical Leader: Spurs 6-2
Analyzing the Spurs’ offense and the Jazz’ defense
Tony Parker is like Peyton Manning in the prime of his career in this series. Manning had the ability to read a defense and pick them apart by either finding the right receiver when the defense threw different blitzes at him, or Manning found the short game and called the correct run plays when the defense overloaded in the backfield on his receivers. Parker is doing something similar on the basketball court. He’s taking what the defense gives him and punishing the defense for trying to find another way to stop him. This was evidenced in game three when the Jazz came out with the lengthier Gordon Hayward as the primary defender on Parker. Hayward didn’t have the foot speed and any time Parker made a hedge toward the paint, a Jazz help defender would try to clog the area. What did Parker do? Simple, if there are two guys on him, he found the open shooter or slasher. Later in game three, the Jazz tried to lay back on Parker on the perimeter by daring him to take a jump shot. So, Parker took the jump shot, and made most of them at a successful rate. His 16-point fourth quarter was just too much for Utah to overcome as they eventually lost the game. Even with Devin Harris being aggressive and scoring 21 points, Parker was still able to lead his team to victory. The Jazz have shown three times in a row now, they have no answer for Parker.
Aside from having their issues slowing down Parker, the Jazz allowed the Spurs to continue to dominate the paint on Saturday as the Spurs outscored them 50-28. The Jazz’ best defensive quarter was the second quarter when they slowed down the tempo on offense and held the Spurs to 22 points. The Jazz couldn’t sustain that defensive initiative for the whole game as the Spurs eventually broke the game open with several offensive runs, as they led the game in fast break points 22-9. Kawhi Leonard and Gary Neal played limited minutes in game three, but the Spurs once again had a scoring punch from Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Stephen Jackson, and Tiago Splitter. It’s always an uncertainty to know which player aside from Parker and Duncan is going to help with the scoring load, but it can be a certainty that one of the players in uniform wearing silver and black will be there to help the tandem. Even though Manu Ginobili still hasn’t gotten going scoring-wise, he’s picking the Jazz apart in the pick-and-roll as he collected 10 assists in game three. This Jazz team has a ton of issues to solve if they hope to keep their season alive. Will one day off really solve their pick-and-roll issues they’ve had all season? I think not.
Analyzing the Spurs’ defense and the Jazz’ offense
Yes Harris came out like he was shot out of a cannon on Saturday, but there’ a reason Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has won four NBA titles. He’s a mastermind at making adjustments through the course of the game. No adjustment was more evident on Saturday when he decided he’d had enough of Harris scoring on Parker and Gary Neal, as coach Popovich decided to put Green on Harris in the third quarter, and Harris wasn’t as effective when the move was made because of Green’s length and speed in the backcourt. Though Al Jefferson scored 21 points and Derrick Favors scored 15 points to make it seem like they had a great game, they both had to take a combined 32 shots to score those combined 36 points. Paul Millsap (9 points) and Gordon Hayward (4 points) once again struggled, and after the first quarter where the Jazz scored 28 points, the Spurs held them to 22, 18, and 22 points through the rest of the game. The Jazz at home shot just 40%. It’s kind of scary that the team that was said to just be an offensive juggernaut and possess a mediocre defense, the Spurs, are actually playing some really good defensive ball in the playoffs as they’re holding the Jazz to just 88 points in the series, well below the Spurs’ season average of 97 points per game.
The Jazz’ offense did everything they could in game three. They were able to get an aggressive Harris and Jefferson, and even Alec Burks supplied them with 11 points off the bench, but it still wasn’t even close enough to keep them in the game in the fourth quarter. The one bright spot in game three where the Jazz could look to was in the second quarter, when they slowed down the tempo and were able to take the lead, and held the Spurs to 22-points. The only problem with slowing down the tempo is the Jazz had trouble scoring too as they only mustered 22 points as well in that second quarter. The team might look to change the starting lineup as Favors, who shows the most promise off the bench, could possibly start, but there doesn’t seem to be a significant matchup on the floor where the Jazz can dominate the Spurs in.
If the Spurs can come out aggressive and build an early marginal lead, the Jazz will mentally cave and the Spurs should be on their way to their 14th straight victory. The key to the game for the Spurs will once again be an aggressive Parker, sharing the basketball as a team, executing in the pick-and-roll, communicating on defense, pushing the tempo, shooting quality shots, and limiting their own turnovers. The Spurs can be their own worst enemy at times, but overall they just have too much firepower for Utah to match. I see the Spurs closing this game out with a 12-15 point win and preparing for the Clippers or Grizzlies in the next round.